[Read and Respond] Porky on Poseability – ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Grimdark’

Let it be known that once thy comment doth exceed in length the post upon which it is made, and demand illustration through example, thy comment be not a fitting comment, but a post in its own right, for thine own blog and not the comments section of thy peer.

Porky said some things about Oldhammer and Newhammer and the evolution or perhaps devolution of miniatures and the technology of miniatures, and I’d like to explore some of those ideas with illustrations.

Personally, I think it’s also about assembly, and the range of options in a kit. I think we could propose a simple rule: all else being equal, the more poseable a miniature, the more formless any given finished effect, and maybe the more gormless in appearance.

That’s a difficult rule to disagree with, not because I think it’s right but because of the ‘all else being equal’ qualifier and the obvious subjectivity of ‘formless’ and ‘gormless’. I’m going to take ‘form’ as having something to do with consistency, visual and tactile solidity, and implied weight or impact or presence. I’m going to take ‘gorm’ as implied presence of mind – this model is posed in some way that evokes an actual living thing rather than an inert piece of plastic, but it has to actually look like it’s doing something plausible rather than just standing around not doing very much or worse, looking actively awkward, vacant or stupid.

With that in mind, let’s do an analsis – I mean, look at some examples.

I’ll be charitable to these chaps. They have form. They occupy a space and they’re very definite in their presence. They are simple, they are solid, and they clearly denote the presence of a Chaos Warrior. That’s about all I have to say in their favour. They are also blocky, dull, and are just standing around holding their weapons nonchalantly. They’re like board game pieces; they don’t evoke a Chaos Warrior, they simply indicate where one is. Hell, if you weren’t prepared to cut new slots in their bases, they wouldn’t even face the right way (or rank up when they did unless you carefully alternated their placements). I find them formful but gormless.

Here we have their replacements, the multi-part late-nineties specimens. These chaps are more visually interesting and have a certain heft about them, though it’s true (I think) that the artificial stance of the previous Warriors lends them a bit more… solidity, I suppose? However, the mysteriously squatting legs (which seem to afflict a whole generation of GW multi-part plastics) rob them of a little dignity and it’s all too easy to overdo it on the mutations, or to notice the weird bloating when comparing bare heads and arms from the Mutation sprue to the size of the helmets and arms from the Warriors. What’s wrong with that? Were those parts originally designed for Chaos Space Marines and shoehorned in to a kit where they don’t belong? Are the Warriors themselves weirdly proportioned, with their hunches and their tiny heads and their turtle-like neck-thrusts? What do we think? Formless, gormless or both? I had a sense of certainty at the start, now I’m not so sure.

By way of a final example, let’s check out some of the current range.

They certainly have form. They occupy a lot of space and they have a sense of menace about them, a sense of weight and presence, which might be given the lie when you pick them up and realise they’re plastic. That said, they’re closed in on themselves. They march in step. They have to be if they’re going to fit into a unit. Despite the different weapons, heads, shields and other ironmongery, they’re not actually very… Chaotic. Plus, they’re just sort of holding their weapons, like the fourth edition ones. I suppose they at least look like they’re trudging grimly into battle, which is nice for display purposes and deployment, but strangely non-evocative – again, they denote rather than connote a Chaos Warrior. They show where one is without really showing how one is.

Let’s have a look at some stuff from a different range, which illustrates another dimension to this whole issue. Multi-part, in Workshopland at least, generally means ‘plastic’, and ‘plastic vs. metal’ is an ancient piece of false binary bullshit that I’d really rather not involve myself in, but I suppose I’ll have to at this point. I generally come down in favour of plastic – weight is a factor when one walks or cycles everywhere, as is the ornery nature of superglue and the crucial factor of modelling (of which more later). However, much as I like to sneer at vague feelings, there is something more satisfying about hefting a metal model than a plastic one. There is a palpable sense of solidity and presence and form there; I don’t know if it’s just the physical weight, or the idea that plastic is disposable and modern and fake while metal is honest and old-school and enduring. Let’s have a look at these lads.

http://derfeldmarschall.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/von-carstein-army-armored-skeletons.html
http://brownk29.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/army-focus-warhammer-vampire-counts.html

Metal and plastic Skeletons from the mid-Nineties. I cherish both of these for very different reasons.

Put down a unit of metal Armoured Skeletons with their coffin lid shields and there’s a sense of the static and the immobile about them that’s rendered interesting by the range of details on models which still share a pose. They all look the same (pose) and yet they look different (details). Put down a unit of Ghouls beside them and there’s a sense of the wild and primal which belies the fact that there’s only six different models in there – six different poses as opposed to one pose for a unit says a great deal. Those metal lads are much more to my liking IF I’m going to build a unit as it comes and accept the designer’s vision as definitive.

It is harder to achieve a sense of form with the plastic models. They never quite look consistent, they never quite look strong. However, I built an army out of them and not the metal ones because a) they were far more affordable and b) they encouraged and invited conversion in a way that the metals didn’t. This is the huge point which I think Porky’s missed.

Why? Because scope for poseability implies leftover freedom, space that to a degree someone other than the sculptor has to mitigate. This pragmatic blend in the name of choice conveys a less pure vision. If everything is possible, does anything carry weight?

I’d argue that leaving some freedom for the modeller and gamer to take ownership of their collection – sharing the vision, as it were – is one of the great strengths of the GW range. I’d also argue that posable plastics are much, much easier to take ownership of than single-pose metals. Poseability means you can choose which parts to add, combine kits with ease, and you seldom have to painstakingly whittle away chunky metal elements that are joined to one another in several detailed places; plastic is easy to cut and reposition and the glue moulds parts together. You seldom need to pin for load-bearing unless something’s very fragile.

This idea of design space that’s left implicit within a kit is crucial in creating a sense of agency and ownership. If anything is possible we have to decide what carries weight, we have to exert ourselves on our medium. I think the kitbashed armies I’ve done have weight and impact, albeit of a different kind to the single-piece models I’ve discussed above. I took the sculptor’s vision and saw the spaces that they’d left and found something to exploit and extend and make mine in a way that nothing out of the box would have done, and in a way that I wouldn’t have felt encouraged or invited to do had those models been solid pieces of definitive, defined, detailed white metal.

However, there’s definitely a kind of multi-part kit which actively frustrates the modeller. I’m thinking here of those kits where every possible weapon option for two unit types has to be worked in somehow. Those kits often feature separate arms and hands. Some of those arms have to work with a gun, or with a sword and board, or with a double-handed weapon, resulting in weirdly jointed and placed designs that work equally badly for any of them. Often, there’ll be a double-handed weapon that needs to join to arms that need to join to shoulders – that’s four joins to manage and which all need to fit and flow together for the model’s pose to look natural.

There’s also a kind of kit which might as well not be multi-part at all; I feel that way about the current Chaos Warriors. For all the good that choosing a helmet or a weapon or a shield does, it’s still essentially doing the same thing and it still looks crap with a halberd just slammed into the same wrists and held horizontally. I’ve done great things with those kits, in the past, and maybe one day I will do so again, but it was chuffing hard work – but it was work that I wouldn’t have felt able to do if they were single-part models.

If you were expecting some sort of conclusion, I’m sorry to disappoint you. This has been me thinking aloud, in more words than are appropriate for a blog post (roughly twice as many). You knew the risks when you joined up.

10 thoughts on “[Read and Respond] Porky on Poseability – ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Grimdark’

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    1. It’s not really ‘stealing’, is it? It’s not like you don’t still have the item in question. I prefer ‘borrowing without permission’.

      Still, easily fixed, so AWAY I GO.

  1. I think we’re at cross-purposes to some degree – I really am talking only about poseability, and that choice that comes with a range of options, whatever allows for that, and not metal vs. plastic, or trends in range styling, and not really even complexity or difficulty in build. For the same reason you give, I’m also not sure the chaos warriors are a good example, in that even the newer warriors are relatively lacking in poseability. I’m thinking of mainstays like tactical marines and boyz, and at the upper end the more elite boxes, or command squads, that are low count with packed sprues.

    A lot of what I’ve replied to TJ at mine is relevant here too. At risk of making a comment to a post that grew from a comment that becomes a post itself, I’ll repeat that here:

    “I’m not suggesting poseability is a bad thing from the individual modeller’s perspective, in the sense of immediate value for that person’s hobby. I also appreciate the greater freedom of experimentation and expression the more multi-part kits give us, and part of what first got us old-timers excited, and still drives us to actually do that, could have been the greater specificity of the individual mini back then and the greater difficulty in conversion – seeing that good art, presumed to be finished but for the paint job, but finding it so difficult to make new ourselves.

    “On the subject of representations, there’s also the issue of subjective preference, that what one person likes or can be persuaded to like is not the same for another. If GW thinks a particular trend is worth pursuing or a cue worth using, there are bound to be like-minded people, just as others could have different ideas. Look at the division in the reception of recent releases.

    “But none of that is the point I’m making. I’m suggesting that beyond the immediate gain there may be less immediate consequences that become visible only taking a longer view, consequences that could be undermining the hobby by diminishing its essence. It may be that poseability runs partly counter to the nature of 40K, or rather the nature that gets the best reaction from modellers as a whole, including all players that use kits just to play their armies. It may be that greater poseability boosts interest in the minis, setting and game – and sales – in the short term, but stifles this in the long term, that the creative constraints that focus our energies are less than they were and hold the interest less intensely or for a shorter time, especially in the case of relative newcomers. If so, it may be that the base now is just not feeling it collectively to the same degree the base back then did, and does still, with even the sculptors and other creative parties involved potentially losing focus as that formlessness grows. A mass slide, very slowly, into a general ennui. Time will tell, as new evidence in whatever direction appears.

    “Moving off topic just a little, it may also be that the effort needed to mitigate isn’t available when so many minis are needed for a typical force, if distractions are rising and attention spans falling; that the vision is lost somewhere on a worktop of pieces, offsetting the empowerment.

    “What we want and what may be on balance best for us, and the hobby, aren’t necessarily the same thing.”

    1. I don’t know if I have a purpose so much as a need to think out loud about the practical issues surrounding poseable/not poseable and the other factors with which those issues intersect.

      Let me rephrase this and see if I’ve grasped your gist. In essence, you’re saying that a certain core of solid statements in miniature form is necessary as a foundation, a kind of common denominator for What The Warhammerverse Is. Without that, you have nothing against which to kick, no sense of what plus what equals anything else, and no real grasp of what it is that you’re taking ownership of. You are, in short, spoiled for choice.

      Furthermore, the more models you have to put together, the less likely you are to WANT that ownership and agency and freedom, since the act of putting a force together is already enough of a drain on your resources; whatever you want to achieve is lost in the quagmire of what you need to get done.

      Is this a) why you used to spend a week working on a single Ork Boy conversion and b) why I need to put that quote about post-modernism back on my blog banner?

      (Incidentally, I plan on building my Chaos Space Marines a unit at a time, after the initial ‘let’s get our 500 points of single-piecers done and down’ stage. That’s how we used to do things and it seemed to me to be more fun.)

  2. Hi Von and Porky, forgive me for commenting here instead of at the original post – I saw this first so I may as well join in this discussion. There’s something odd going on here with regard to virtual land rights isn’t there? Who’s house am I in, and is it rude to jump on Von’s extension of Porky’s post? Eh.

    Von, I took Porky to be saying something a bit more ephemeral, i.e. that the material heaviness of metal and the lack of poseability in the older models was in some way responsible (or a pre-requisite for) the grim darkness of the setting. That people’s senses were tickled in a particular way by having heavy, complete objects in front of them. And then he was making an even more tenuous extension of that point: that multi-part plastic poseable kits are lighter literally and metaphorically, and thus they undermine the grim dark.

    I’m not sure if I buy that. I’ll have to think about it.

    What I wanted to say is that I’ve recently been assembling metal models for SAGA and it has certainly made me think about what our models are actually for. Given that they are abstract game pieces, I find myself not really bothered that some of the poses repeat, and that my Irish warriors are the same models as everyone else’s. As long as they say “hey, these guys are Irish warriors; these guys are fianna; this dude is the warlord;” well, that might be all we really need. Modern GW kits are assuming that the connotation is more important than the denotation, as you so elegantly put it.

    If I want to, I can use a bit of greenstuff to make my warlord’s hair longer, or some other minor cosmetic change to make him look slightly different from someone else’s, but in a way I don’t see why I should. It’s a lot of work and really he already denotes a warlord just fine. That’s his job and he does it. Besides, the difficulty in conversion reminds me that someone made this guy as a complete work of art, and I bought him because I liked what he looked like. He’s part of the long and proud tradition of tin soldiers.

    Plastic makes it easy to make dramatic changes, and then it’s easy to get addicted to the modification and suddenly you have a whole army that may not even denote correctly at all. It might be night goblins mashed up with other pieces using the imperial guard rules, and once you’ve got something like that on your hands, you’re in a whole different mindspace with regard to the game and the hobby.

    Yeah, sorry, I don’t have a point either :)

    1. Hmm. To an extent I feel that undermining the GRIMDARK is possibly a good thing, since the alternative is to take it seriously, but that’s the snide answer in me. I think there’s definitely something in it – a metal model does feel more committed than a plastic one.

      Thinking about your SAGA models – it’s interesting that I don’t get this uptight about Warmachine, isn’t it? Don’t really give a shit whether my Asphyxious looks like your Asphyxious (I did repose my Lich Lord Asphyxious, actually, but mostly because his original pose looks dumb and falls apart the whole time; mine is more upright, posed like a spellcaster rather than a soul-surfer, has more points of contact between the components, he is – dare I say it – more solid).

      There’s much less room in Warmachine – the characters are made up for you and there are few obvious holes in the range where particular options haven’t been made – and perhaps the denotation is in the model (“this is what he is”) and the connotation is in the paintwork (“this one’s mine”)?

      There’s something to be said for that ‘complete work of art’ and there are some figures that I would simply leave alone because I’m comfortable having them there as they are – they don’t express anything but what I’d want to express. The current Dark Apostle and Warpsmith are absolutely perfect as they are, for instance, as are most of the Forge World kits.

      The Forge World Chaos Dwarf infantry, by the bye, are among my poster boys for “you have tried to make a pose that works for sword and board and for guns and it’s compromised the piece for both purposes, well done.” They’re not poseable but their multi-part structure weakens them anyway, leads to a lot of “I’m just holding my weapon” poses, especially on the Fireglaive ones.

      There are some figures that I flat out repurpose – my old Imperial Noble from Warhammer Quest who’s been a Vampire Lord all his working life – because the model that denotes one thing can connote another with a simple change in context and decision in colour-scheme.

      There are some figures that I mash up like a good ‘un, like all those Skeletons and Zombies in Imperial uniforms and all those Knights distressed and painted to look Undead. I’d like to think that had a very definite outcome: “here’s an undead Empire army”. I’d like to think that’s a good place to go.

  3. Very interesting post and topic. In terms of character my favourite miniatures are still the old Confrontation ranges. The did have some multipose sets, but it was mostly down to weapon choice and arm position. I think it is hard to make a multipose set look really good, due to the limitations of forseeing what people will make out of a given set. Monopose miniatures allow the sculptor to follow his vision more closely.

    1. Confrontation did have some -lovely- pieces – shame the rules apparently made 90% of gamers weep tears of blood.

      I wonder why I consider my vision (I bought these things, didn’t I?) to be more important than the sculptor’s in some cases but not in others? With some models – the multi-parters that I kitbash or repose – perhaps they DO feel in some way incomplete or inappropriate for purpose, and my instincts are driving me to ‘finish’ them?

  4. I’ve been pondering how I might clarify the core point and bind it with the ideas in the quotes I posted, and I finally found a formulation I was relatively happy with, but I come back to find beat ronin’s essentially covered it for me, and very concisely, in that second paragraph. These bits, with my addition in square brackets:

    “… the material heaviness of metal and the lack of poseability in the older models was in some way responsible (or a pre-requisite for [or a focused reflection of – Porky]) the grim darkness of the setting. … people’s senses were tickled in a particular way by having heavy, complete objects in front of them. … multi-part plastic poseable kits are lighter literally and metaphorically, and thus they undermine the grim dark.”

    But also in the penultimate paragraph, that by having that kind of freedom “you’re in a whole different mindspace”. That may be good for the individual – and personally I think it is – but it could also be bad for 40K.

    Even beyond the idea that with more options there’s a greater compromise in the finished model, in blending the work of the sculptor – and the other parties involved – with influences beyond their control, there’s also a residue of the paths not taken remaining in the final form, blurring the vision of the setting and reducing coherence. For poseability there may need to be more or less additional space, space that wouldn’t be there otherwise, reducing density.

    @ beat ronin – Re virtual land rights, this kind of back and forth posting is stimulating for sure, and shows the power and limits of the medium well. Trying to track back and follow things can be hard work, and in more complex cases, like the arguments around the choice of D&D consultants, getting on for impossible in practical terms. Maybe our tech, or our thinking, is too flat.

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